State Rep opposes latest physician-assisted suicide bill

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — As a Catholic, State Representative Alan Silvia of the 7th Bristol District in Fall River, recently felt compelled to speak in opposition to House Bill H-1194 — the latest version of a proposed physician-assisted suicide law during a hearing at the State House on September 26.

“There’s been a series of these bills submitted over the past few years; I know there has been at least one every session since 2009 in Massachusetts,” Representative Silvia recently told The Anchor. “And of course we had the ballot question in 2012 — that was known as Question 2, or ‘Death with Dignity,’ and it was defeated by 52 percent — a small margin.”

According to Representative Silvia, the push for getting this end-of-life law passed here and in other states has only increased since Oregon approved its “Death With Dignity” law in 2002.

“It continues to be introduced here in the Commonwealth and, of course, my concern is that now there are several states that already have assisted suicide,” he said. “Within the past year 17 states have already attempted to file bills calling them everything from ‘Death with Dignity’ to ‘Dying with Dignity’ to ‘End of Life Options’ and even ‘Aid in Dying,’ when in all reality they just aid in killing.”

Although the bill keeps resurfacing in different versions, Representative Silvia said thus far “it hasn’t gone anywhere.”

“It’s stayed in committee and one of the reasons why I was so eager to testify was all of this concern suddenly with the rising costs of health care,” he said. “Now it’s being looked at because people are becoming a ‘burden’ to their families and using that as a reason or justification to commit suicide. But if suicide is wrong, isn’t doctor-assisted suicide just as wrong?”

As a Pro-Life supporter and someone who believes in the sanctity of all life from birth to natural death, Representative Silvia said it doesn’t make sense to him that doctors would be obligated to do something that goes against the Hippocratic Oath.

“Medical and health care professionals have taken a pledge to preserve life,” he said. “You know if a bill like this passes, this really is asking doctors to prescribe death. It’s causing a distrust in the health care community in the states where physician-assisted suicide is legal.”

While he can certainly sympathize with families who are faced with the difficult challenges of watching a loved one get sick and slowly die, he firmly believes that “the intentional taking of a human life is always wrong.”

“It all comes down to killing someone when it’s not their time to go,” Representative Silvia added. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to make sure we’re not doing that as good Christians. We came here naturally, we should leave this world naturally.”

Citing his own personal experience of watching his mother slowly pass away, Representative Silvia said it gave him an opportunity to prepare, say goodbye and tell her how much he loved her.

“I just held her hand and prayed,” he said. “As I said in my testimony, there’s only dignity in living, there’s no dignity in dying. It’s what we do in our life that’s substantial and important.”

Noting that H-1194 had equal numbers of supporters and detractors during the recent hearing, Representative Silvia said it was interesting that on the very same day the American College of Physicians — which boasts about 200,000 members nationwide — came out in opposition to physician-assisted suicide.

“It was interesting to have that happen while this was going on,” he said. “And the reason they are opposed to it is because it goes against the reason they became physicians. They became health care providers to preserve and save lives. If this bill passes, you’re really putting the health care profession in a bad place and you’re putting that loved one in a situation where they are taking their life without the need to do that.”

According to Representative Silvia, the latest argument for physician-assisted suicide seems to be fueled by the rising costs of health care and people not wanting to be a burden and creating a financial hardship for their loved ones.

“Health care is so expensive, they look at this as a reason to euthanize,” he said. “They don’t want to be a burden to their family because of the rising costs of health care ­— so that’s supposed to be a reason to commit suicide?

“One of the amazing things is that I had a conversation with a doctor from Oregon who was here testifying as well. Most people think the reason behind the Oregon legislation — and why people were asking to be euthanized — was because of pain. But it’s not about pain at all — that’s the big lie. The top reason for choosing a legal overdose in Oregon is fear of being a burden and loss of autonomy and being unable to enjoy certain activities. So it’s all for the wrong reasons.”

The state representative and vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security also pointed to the fact that here in Massachusetts we have some of the best palliative and end-of-life care in the world, with programs like Hospice that work closely with the family and the person who is nearing death.

“So when people say, ‘I don’t want them to suffer,’ well, there is no suffering,” he said. “We have palliative care that is so advanced these days, that no one is laying in a bed suffering or shivering in pain with the medications that are available. If a physician is there and there’s palliative care taking place, there is no suffering. They are giving them the medications they need — and they will die naturally.”

Representative Silvia also fears the “slippery slope” that could result from passage of this bill — eventually extending to people who are developmentally challenged or who require expensive medical procedures at an advanced age.

“In Holland, where this first started, people who are depressed are trying to end their life and there’s actually a roving patrol of doctors and if you want to sign the documentation that you are depressed and are a burden you can be given the medication you need to die,” he said. “These end-of-life issues are being sold to the public in very submissive and strange ways.”

Some of the language in H-1194 also calls for what is tantamount to the falsification of a person’s death certificate.

“In this bill, it calls for giving the cause of death on the death certificate as the underlying disease,” he said. “So let’s say the person has cancer — the death certificate would list the cause of death as cancer, rather than physician-assisted suicide. That’s lying on the death certificate. The cause of death is not cancer. Some people with cancer can live for 15 or 20 years. The actual cause of death was a prescription written by a doctor and filled by pharmacist that they knew would result in death.”

With the bill currently in committee and destined to be put up for a vote, Representative Silvia said it was important for him to speak out.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen, that’s why it’s good for people to know so that if it is released from committee and does hit the floor, people can call their legislators and let them know how they feel,” he said.

Adding that medicine “is not an exact science,” the state rep recalled meeting a doctor at the hearing who himself was given six months to live. That was a year-and-a-half ago.

“He’s in his early 90s and he’s still alive and is opposed to physician-assisted suicide,” Representative Silvia said. “Part of his reason is he hasn’t done anything extraordinary, but he was told he would be dead in six months. And that wasn’t the case at all. So who are we to decide when it’s time? Let God decide.”

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